Inquiry Proposal Draft 1: Request For Comments

Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s first proposal for the World Wide Web. Note his supervisor’s feedback at the top. Some world-changing ideas begin with feedback just like this.

From The Syllabus: THE INQUIRY PROJECT

The final assignment is the inquiry project. You’ll have to have this finished and published for a grade by the last day of class. It’s worth 35% of your final grade. Think of your inquiry project as a research paper for the digital age: although it will have many of the characteristics of academic writing, it’ll take advantage of thought vectors in concept space–and lots of creativity–to make something much more involving and rewarding than a typical “term paper.”

The Inquiry Project: First Proposal And Request For Comments

This draft of your inquiry project is a proposal in three sections: an area of inquiry, a direction (vector) within that area, and thoughts about how the project might live in the concept space of the web. You should write these things up in a post that’s as interesting and creative as possible. You’ll want to inspire your classmates to dive in with you and respond thoughtfully and energetically to your ideas. If it’s helpful, feel free to number the sections in your proposal.

Remember that this is a first draft–a request for comments. This is not a contract or a set-in-stone, no-turning-back prescription for your project. There will be time for a definite direction over the next week or so.

Here’s more detail about the three sections.

Area Of Inquiry

What are you interested in knowing more about? Be as focused as you can, but keep some room open for exploration and discovery. For example, are you interested in computer-enabled prosthetics? In cosplay? In sustainability? In Instagram? In contemporary musical theater? In wearable computers? Note that these are fairly general areas, so you’ll need to write a good bit here about your interest in the area. Why are you interested? What led you to be interested in this area? How has the course so far shaped or stimulated your interest, if indeed it has? In other words, this section should explore your interest as well as the area in which you’re interested.

Direction (Vector) Of Inquiry

Here’s where things get more specific. If you’re interested in wearable computers, for example, which direction (vector) of inquiry seems particularly interesting to you at this point? You can think of “direction” in at least two ways. One is sub-areas within the general area. For “wearable computers,” there could be sub-areas ranging from the FitBit to Google Glass. For contemporary musical theater, there could be sub-areas such as “revivals of classic musicals” or “experimental musicals” or “off-Broadway musicals” or “film adaptations of contemporary musical theater.” And so forth. The other way to think about direction is to think about what kind of inquiry you’d like to do (another kind of “vector”). Sociological? Historical? A close analysis of one example that combines literary, musical, and scientific investigations? (Think for example about the recent production of Spiderman on Broadway, the one that was plagued with technical problems involving the engineering of the special effects.) If you can combine both kinds of “direction” in this section of your proposal, that’d be ideal, but don’t force it. Better to keep exploring than to settle on a superficial direction too soon.

Your Project In The Concept Space Of The Web

The final version of your inquiry project needs to demonstrate your ability to write a sustained, persuasive, and interesting account of your research. You’ll need to show you can cite sources accurately, and that you can successfully weave many voices, viewpoints, and data points into a coherent prose document. At the same time, however, you have the opportunity to demonstrate these things in the medium of the Web, where images, sounds, video, hyperlinks, and all the other affordances we’ve been exploring can be used to great effect. The question for this part of your proposal, then, is how you imagine (or dream) you might create an interesting, distinctive inquiry project on the Web. What form will it take? How will you show its relation to your classmates’ work, or to the work you’ve done over the semester–or even in other courses? This part of your draft will probably be the most speculative of all, so consider this an opportunity to be boldly imaginative. If you wanted to create an inquiry project that would make your family proud, your friends gasp with wonder, and all your professors’ jaws drop with amazement, with words and images and sounds and hyperlinks and anything else the Web affords, what would it look like?